Becoming a Man with K Jason Bryan

Hello!

As gay kids we have to get through so much that we end up not remembering a lot of our childhoods.

Today we meet K Jason Bryan and we’re talking about the book that saved his life: Becoming A Man: Half A Life Story by Paul Monette.

Jason is a Sr Client Consultant for corporate insurance, and used to chair his company’s LGBT & Allies ERG. He is a former member of the Governors Board at the Human Rights Campaign. He also served as the Membership Director at Quorum, Minnesota’s LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce.

Becoming A Man: Half A Life Story won the National Book Award and the LAMBDA Literary Award. Struggling to be or at least to imitate a straight man, through Ivy League halls of privilege and bohemian travels abroad, loveless intimacy, and unrequited passion, Paul Monette was haunted, and finally saved, by a dream–“The thing I’d never even seen: two men in love and laughing.” This searingly honest, witty, and humane merging of memoir and manifesto has become the definitive coming out story–and a classic of the coming-of-age genre.

Hear more Romanovsky and Phillips!

website: romanovskyandphillips.com
Featured song in this episode: “When Heterosexism Strikes” from their album Be Political, Not Polite (1991)

Connect with Jason

Facebook: facebook.com/kjason.bryan

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To purchase Becoming A Man: Half A Life Story visit: https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9780060595647

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Credits

Host/Founder: J.P. Der Boghossian
Executive Producer: Jim Pounds
Associate Producers: Archie Arnold, K Jason Bryan and David Rephan, Natalie Cruz, Jonathan Fried, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shay, and Sean Smith
Patreon Subscribers: Stephen D., Stephen Flamm, Ida Göteburg, Thomas Michna, and Gary Nygaard.
Creative and Accounting support provided by: Gordy Erickson
Music and SFX credits: visit thiqueerbook.com/music

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Transcript

[theme music]

J.P. Der Boghossian
Hey everyone. “Two Men in Love and Laughing.” That is part of a quote from today’s book by Paul Monnet. Specifically he’s talking about a dream he had of his future. Sometimes fleeting dream, sometimes haunting dream, and ultimately a driving force to see, “the thing I’d never even seen. Two Men in Love and Laughing.”

We’re talking about becoming today. How as children we can be cut off from becoming who we are, and then how we’re trained to cut ourselves off from becoming who we could be, and then getting to the point where we can come out, but all the work it takes to become ourselves. My name is JP de Burgosian. I am your host, and you’re listening to this queer book, Save My Life, a GLAAD Media Award nominee for Outstanding Podcast.

[theme music ends]

[upbeat music begins]

K Jason Bryan
This is Jason Bryan. I am originally from Richmond, Virginia and have lived in Minnesota for years. I am very thankful to be in Minnesota and do feel that it is overall just a safe and welcoming place to live as an LGBTQ person. And, you know, appreciate the political leadership and strength that we’re currently seeing. And…also know that besides the forces across the country that are working against us, those same forces are always attempting to do that in Minnesota too. So we have to, you know, maintain that in our own state as well as continue to support others and fight for that across the country.

J.P. Der Boghossian
And when it comes to that fight and the organizing, if you live in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, in the queer community here, you can definitely play Six Degrees of Jason Bryant.

He is one of the most well-connected gays, and that comes from a deep commitment to organizing and volunteering and taking on leadership roles on a whole host of issues.

K Jason Bryan
Through meeting people in the community, through volunteerism, is how I’ve become well connected in the Twin Cities LGBTQ plus community from being on the steering committee of the human rights campaign and the National Board of Governors to working for Quorum, our LGBTQ chamber of commerce. When I first moved here, I did the AIDS walk and organized groups to do that. Yeah, I enjoy being out in community and contributing in some way.

J.P. Der Boghossian
He’s being humble there, which is on brand for Jason. And as you’ll see in our time today, the book we’ll be talking about in this episode did have an impact in how Jason supports the queer community and his own role in doing that.

Here’s my conversation with Jason.

[music fades]
J.P. Der Boghossian
So, yes, Jason, we’re all here to talk about today. What is the book that saved your life?

K Jason Bryan
The book that saved my life is Becoming a Man, Half a Life Story by Paul Monette.

J.P. Der Boghossian
And how would you describe it to listeners who haven’t read it yet?

K Jason Bryan
It is a really powerful coming out story from a person who struggled with the pressures of his time, of his upbringing his community, you know, had to slog through a lot to find his way to come out and be himself.

J.P. Der Boghossian
How did you come to find the book?

Jason
I have probably had this book for close to 30 years.

J.P.
Wow.

Jason
So I came out years ago to myself and, you know, that was the same year that this book was published and I would imagine I heard of it somewhere in that newsworthiness in the community somewhere. So I don’t know exactly when I got it, but within those first couple of years, I just remember how much it meant that this book existed. That this book told the coming out story of one person in a way as all really great writers do that has universality that we all can connect with and see ourselves in.

That it was an award-winning book, having won the National Book Award for nonfiction in , that a queer book won that award that long ago. I think just a lot of his, a lot of the story and the importance of coming out and telling our stories was really meaningful to me.

J.P.
What was it like for you, you said, coming out to myself? What was that story like for you?

Jason
When I went to college in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I met many, many, many people, as I do, built community and made friends. In the fall of , through my college theater professor, a group of us volunteered at the national display of the Names Project AIDS Quilt. Oh, wow. And much like when, very late in the book, when Paul Monette goes to Provincetown and he says these are my people. So when Paul Monette goes to Provincetown and it settles on him, these are my people that’s what I felt when I went to the AIDS quilt. And this is not his book about AIDS. That’s his memoir, Borrowed Time, about his relationship and the passing of his first partner, Roger.

This is the book of his coming out story. But similarly at the AIDS quilt, obviously the large percentage of people there were the LGBTQ community, suffering from the disease at that time. And I knew these are my people. What was that like? It was very powerful. It was very freeing, very eye-opening to discover that size of community, that for my first real foray, into the gay world to be at such a large event was really amazing. And then that is where I met my friends who are the reason I live in Minnesota. So I was volunteering at the quilt, and on the last day I had finished all of my volunteer shifts, and so I was like, I’m just going to go be a visitor on this final day. And it was going to rain. And so this one volunteer woman was looking very nervous. And I went up to her and I said, don’t worry. I said, I think a lot of people here are volunteers from the weekend today. So we will help you, you know, if it rains. It was a whole process with the quilt. It’s really amazing how quickly they can protect it if it rains. And so we ended up doing that. That was Cynthia.

And she introduced me to her friend, Kelly. A guy named Kelly. And he was my first confidant, my first like gay friend and mentor. So we talked by phone, we stayed in touch. He sent me articles, he sent me freedom rings. And as I finished school, he had just purchased a house and had one roommate and had a third bedroom. And he said, would you want to come here? And it just felt right. And I said, I said, yes, like, get me out of Virginia. Sorry, family. But I wanted to go somewhere that I knew had a vibrant gay community that I knew I could be myself and safe. So I mentioned marching in the March on Washington with the Minnesota group and I mean, with like hundreds, I don’t know, thousand people from the state of Minnesota.

And everyone was chanting number eight gay rights state because the statewide ordinance in Minnesota had passed probably days before the March on Washington in . So also like the quilt and my coming out is also tied to my coming to Minnesota.

J.P.
That’s amazing. Thank you for volunteering in that way. You do so many things. I feel like I should just be constantly thanking you for all the volunteering and the organizing that you’ve done on behalf of the community. About the memoir, or coming back to the memoir, the opening…uh line just like hooked me right away. It says everybody else had a childhood for one thing where they were coaxed and coached and taught all the shorthand and Paul spends a decent amount of time right because this is coming out story but he spends a lot of time in childhood and what’s there are a couple things that struck me on there. One was how he’s talking about the shorthand right how like young queer kids don’t have that. Early speaking to his you know experience of that the hatred de talks a lot about kids and hatred. And when you were reading these first few chapters of the memoir, what was coming up for you as you were reading it?

Jason
I think similarly that that he refers to a few times, like having no memories of really before you came out. And not that there are not none, not no memories, but there are just big chunks that were that are a blur.

Or that are not maybe what got you to where you are today, not that what got you to coming out, things that you had to survive. I mean, you remember being bullied. You remember the first friend you experimented with sexually. You remember, you know, the moments. And Paul says this too, not that everything was bad, things were fine. You know, I think I had a happy typical childhood. My parents divorced, things worked out, everybody was moved forward. I love to see someone share an old picture memory on Facebook or something of me and my little brother and our friend Aaron, who was a similar-aged kid, the friend of my mom’s, or my cousin Amy, and these pictures, and you’re like, oh wow, that’s so cool.

I mean, none of us can remember every exact moment, but I do feel that he hits on how as a gay kid, you get through a lot and don’t remember so much of your childhood. There is a scene that shocked me, a bullying scene that I can’t get out of my head. It is so terrifying.

J.P.
I’m going to ask you about reading the book and its impact on you, but also given your role as this like leader in the community and we have all these book bands that are happening right in the schools. And there’s this, do I say idea that these, you know, elementary school kids and junior high kids are all sweet and innocent. Right. And I don’t want to take away from that. But also, I mean, he was just, Paul was relentless in this violence and bigotry of these young boys and how he was navigating escaping that or being on the margins of that or the silence of that or nobody speaking up when it was happening. And so I think my question is two parts. What was that like reading it for either the first time or as you’ve come back to it over the years? And then I’m curious about your professional take on that of this idea that we’re protecting the innocence of these kids when really it’s the kids that are perpetuating the violence in a way?

Jason
Absolutely. And I think, you know, the more we can expose kids to positive stories, the more we can educate them about difference, which has to be intentional and meaningful and not like don’t see difference, but you know, respect difference, appreciate difference because kids are, they’re pushing the envelope in every aspect of their life. And sometimes that includes cruelty and violence and plucking the legs off a fly or the gay kid in school. You know, and it’s, that needs to be actively countered, not ignored, not brushed off. You know, I resonated with the stories of bullying.

I was a sensitive kid who cried easily and played house with the girls. And you know, so pretty readily picked out when nobody knew what it meant to be queer as the queer as a queer kid, sometimes picked last or next to last for sporting things. And I was good at sports, you know, not accepted into the boys groups on the playground. And I loved boy things as much as I love playing house. Like I, you know.

Um, so it was, uh, that was not cool back then. That’s something of a theme I felt so far in reading the memoir that Paul has of being a boy, being a man, and then not quite, even when he talks about like getting into a prep school you know, and he’s like, I made it, I had all these A’s and then like immediately there’s like three strikes right against him, right? That he’s not staying in the dorms and like he’s not great at right sports and like takes the sport that is like the least, gonna generate the least like, you know, violence, you know, towards him or ridicule towards him.

J.P.
And when you were reading it for the first time, was there something that was coming up for you that you felt you could name for the first time?

Jason
I think naming that that feeling of, yes, I’m a boy and I’m different. Not being allowed to be that in between. If you were a boy, you had to be mean and rough and play rough and if you liked doing anything with girls or girly, you were all the way over on that side. There was no middle, there was no acceptance of where we often are in our journeys, which is not exclusively playing in the expected male or female sides of the coin.

J.P.
I’m always curious with memoirs how sometimes the book and the author, because it’s so intense and intimate when we’re reading these words and their stories, how sometimes the author can take on this emotional surrogacy role and kind of function either like a friend or an older brother or a younger brother or like a Would-be you know a brother or even like paternal, you know, like a mentor type thing So did you find Paul through this book taking on any type of similar role?

Jason
Yes, I mean I Feel there are Enough similarities through the experience of our stories. There are differences many as well but yeah, I mean like like a brother like a he would be a friend you could feel safe with. And sort of like his friends in prep school that they studied in the graveyard and kind of got away from everyone else. And of course no one could say it then, but they were all three queer. And the similar experiences of maybe some boyhood experimentation or fear of being caught or found out or pointed out, I just felt like just…I’m writing along in such a similar story.

J.P.
What was life like for you after reading the memoir?

Jason
As you can imagine, at that time in my life, I was very out, very much promptly became an activist and leader at my college, you know, a whole other sort of discussion we could have. But I was the…first like the treasurer and then later the president of the GLBSA. Was this at your university? Yeah, in college.

J.P.
And what did you do? Like in terms of like pro, was it programming, like support groups or like bringing speakers?

Jason
We did have a support group, but we did programming. So one thing at my college, there was a, you know, many colleges have a quad. Ours was a big circle and people could…hang things like ribbons around the circle for sexual assault prevention, suicide prevention, things like that. And so we, I don’t remember the timing. I feel like it was in spring, but we had it and you could do that. You could put any, you could hang your thing on there for hours. You had a permission from the school and all of that. We hung pink triangles around the circle as a coming out statement.

We brought in, we did bring in speakers and performers. My favorite and like most dear memory of that was booking and bringing in the gay singing duo Romanovsky and Phillips. They’re dynamite. I mean, they’re just, they’re campy and funny and they’re both great singers. Their songs are very queer and very sort of turn of phrase and fun.

That was really, really fun to bring them in and spend time with them.

[30-second clip from “When Heterosexism Strikes” performed by Romanovsky and Phillips]

And just, you know, between this book and seeing things like the times of Harvey Milk and his, you know, come out, come out, and you have to give people hope by coming out, I think all of those just instilled in me that importance of telling our story, of being out, being present, being visible, using that to change hearts and minds, using that to support others in the community.

So one of the…things that really gives me a lot of pride in my experience of coming out is that I was the person on my campus that other people came out to. People found me and wanted to talk and wanted to come out and wanted help in how to do that. And that’s, I mean, that’s an honor and also like a heavy thing for a young person, you know, to be helping other young people with, but that is also part of Paul’s experience in Provincetown, is he, you know, he’s sort of not successful in his attempts one night to find somebody to hook up with. And so he, you know, ends up leaving the bar with a young man, probably also very newly out. And Paul himself is so newly and still in the process of accepting himself. And yet he calls it a…duty of the tribe to help this young man who’s struggling with his coming out. And I feel like that’s something that resonated is like, I just came out and but I’m going to help anybody else through this process and tell them that it is going to be better, you know, that it is going to be OK, that it is good to come out and accept who you are. And so I loved when he does that. I feel like that’s another piece where I connect with him.

J.P.
Did you find that ethos? I imagine that ethos was with you for a while, given the trajectory of your life. And I imagine you being an organizer and a volunteer, even at a young age. And maybe that’s me reading too much into it. But did you find that ethos really being crystallized when reading this book for the first time?

Jason
It was so important, just the tallying of the coming out story and the building of community and the ways that…that he connected that I was connecting. So yes, like that early in the prep school experience or towards the end, I guess, of the prep school experience, he ends up in this play and he realizes that they are using him as a character in this play to make fun of another gay person at the school. And so he kind of sabotages the way he’s supposed to be portraying this person so that it’s not obvious to this child. And I mean, they’re graduating from school, but it’s not obvious to this other student and his family who are watching who he’s supposed to be. And so, you know, even at that early age, he says he, you know, took a bullet for a brother. That just, those two things, right? Like, like protecting each other and supporting each other are definitely something that this book and my other experiences really solidified as important to me.

J.P.
So HIV and AIDS is a big theme in a lot of the writing that Paul does. And so can I ask you, because you were at the Quilt…

Jason
The Names Project AIDS Quilt.

J.P.
If you want to share how you were processing and living through this pandemic.

Jason
So when I started college, , I mean, kind of the height of people dying and not…yet having very effective treatments and AZT, which killed as many people as it helped, unfortunately. Even before I was ready to come out or do anything else, I had taken a psychology course through a community college and high school on human or just a psychology course. And then in my freshman year of college, I took a course on human sexuality. And so I was definitely like…not ready to vocalize myself, but I was exploring sexuality and community and all of that. And I signed up to be a peer educator for HIV and STDs.

And I gave demonstrations on how to put a condom on a banana and how to insert an IUD and teaching sex ed to kids who had no idea. And not that I had any great ideas either. So I mean, I…

I also jumped into safe sex and STD prevention and HIV prevention. And that was a specter over those early years. I think in the bubble of college, not that it can’t happen, but you feel this relative safety when you first come out. But you go up to nightclubs in DC and you meet people with HIV and you…

We did have in my theater program, one of the professors passed away of AIDS while I was there, which was, you know, the first person I knew personally who passed away. Yeah, HIV AIDS was ever present. And so we, and that was really the height of safe sex campaigns and all the posters and all the, that was all we could do at the time.

Did you find the pandemic impacting how you were navigating relationships?

Jason
I would say yes. I mean, you know, college kids are not the smartest and might take risks they shouldn’t and do things that might not have always been safe. And then you would regret that or wonder, you know, about that and then you would double down on making sure you were safe and that you were.

You know, you had to have those conversations with potential partners. And so yeah, it definitely affected, you know, how you navigate meeting people. I mean, not that I dated a lot in college. I mean, I was, you know, at my college an hour away from Washington, DC. You know, that was probably where I met, you know, I certainly had a couple of relationships and met people through others. And but yeah, that was very present in your thoughts, being safe from HIV or slipping up sometimes.

J.P.
As you look back on it now, do you feel there was anything that Paul, through the book, was able to either teach you or inspire or like help you process something about living through the pandemic?

Jason
It doesn’t come up a lot in this book, but he does touch on several times and touches on his relationship with Roger and then their official meeting and beginning is sort of the end of this book. And I think one of the really powerful things that I, you know, kind of rereading and going through it again and then at that time too that was also I think prevalent in the community and the way we took care of each other was loving through all of the dying and still being able to embrace and…live our sexuality because that is what is used against us by society.

It is how we make our first connections and love each other. The refusal to give that up is really important.

J.P.
If you’re able to have a conversation with Paul, since unfortunately he’s no longer with us, Paul strikes me as somebody that I would absolutely, after the first page, I was like, I want to sit down and talk to this guy. If you had that opportunity right now, what would you hope that conversation would be like with him? What would you want to talk about?

Jason
I think I’d want to talk about like his, the things that really felt similar. How did you keep going when that went awry? I think the fear of rejection or worse is what stopped me from having any more sort of experimentations through high school. And there were…you know, certainly times I wanted to and maybe a couple of times that I could have. And obviously everybody in that moment was too afraid to make that next step. And so I could, how did you get through that? How did you navigate that? How did you feel in that, you know, in those times? Um, cause I, you know, this is what I felt. This is what I experienced.

But then really, you know, the, the moments of his coming out and the journey of his coming out and the things he did sort of towards the end and getting there. I mean, he had some wild relationships with women and men. And also the gay men that he did meet that were mentors to him. I would love to talk about those people and those relationships. I think they’re so rich and so important. I think Paul’s journey is so powerful in a way because it does, you know, this book, this coming out book through his struggle, through being bodiless and sexless.

And then his, every time he was with a man, it pushed him further back into the closet. Every time someone tried to connect with him, he ran away. And then he had numerous relationships with women, with men and women. And you know, he’s on this journey boy, the last part of the book sometimes can feel manic because it’s his mania of getting a grip on who he is. And so as he’s finally sort of accepting who he is, as he’s finally coming to terms with that he is gay and he needs to come out and he needs to be himself, he sort of really is on a mission to meet somebody, to have some kind of relationship.

He has this image that he talks about in the book of two men laughing together. That’s what he wants his life to be. And he goes through that summer and it’s the end of summer and he goes to Provincetown for Labor Day weekend. That’s where he meets the young man that he helps sort of on his coming out journey. He gets home Sunday, he’s exhausted and his friend Richard calls and says, come to dinner. I want you to meet these people.

And that was, I think Richard wanted him to meet this other couple, but he gets there and he’s, you know, being introduced to this person and this person. And then it says, and there was Roger.

It’s so beautiful that he meets him and so meaningful that he finally has that love in his life that he has been desperate for and striving for and running from. And I just weep at that moment. Like that moment of joy. Of him knowing, like, meet the rest of your life. For as long as they had that.

[poignant music]

J.P.
Jason told me that he is very much looking forward to enjoying his life and friends and being out and free, living free in a place where he can do that in Minnesota. That includes he and his partner David Rephan, who you may remember from a previous episode, using their vacation time to travel to see their two grown daughters. You can connect with Jason on the social, and Jason is very involved in the Twin Cities with the queer community.

So you might just want to do that. He is K, as in the letter K, Jason Bryan on Facebook.

[theme music]

J.P.

That’s our show for today. Our podcast is executive produced by Jim Pounds, accounting and creative support provided by Gordy Erickson. Our associate producers are Archie Arnold, K Jason Bryant and David Rephan, Natalie Cruz, Jonathan Fried, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olilla, Joe Perrazo, Bill Shay, and Sean Smith. Our Patreon subscribers are Steven D, Steven Flam, Ida Gotëberg, Thomas Mckna, and Gary Nygaard.

Permission to use a clip from “When Heterosexism Strikes” performed by Romanovsky and Phillips provided by Romanovsky and Phillips

Our soundtrack and sound effects were provided through royalty free licenses. Please visit thisqueerbook.com/music for track names and artists.

We are on social media. @thisqueerbook and @J.P.derboghossian on Instagram. We have a facebook page and I’m @J.P.derboghossian dot bsky dot social on Blue Sky.

As always, you can connect with us through our website, thisqueerbook.com, and if you want to be on the show, fill out the form on the home page.

And until our next episode, see you queers and allies in the bookstores!

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